Suzanne Bailey, Senior Attorney, National Legal Research Group
Following the exhilaration accompanying a reversal of a criminal conviction, the former defendant must begin efforts to mitigate the damage, not the least of which may be repairing the financial harm of participating in the criminal justice system. In a seven to one decision (Justice Gorsuch did not participate), the U.S. Supreme Court addressed the Colorado statutory scheme for the refund of costs, fees, and restitution paid pursuant to the invalid conviction and concluded that the Compensation for Certain Exonerated Persons Act (Exoneration Act), Colo. Rev. Stat. §§ 13-65-101 to 13-65-103 (2016), violated due process by requiring defendants whose convictions have been reversed or vacated to prove their innocence by clear and convincing evidence in order to obtain a refund. Nelson v. Colorado, 137 S. Ct. 1249, 197 L. Ed. 2d 611 (2017).
There were two petitioners in Nelson: (1) Shannon Nelson sought a refund of $702.10 withheld from her inmate account with the Colorado Department of Corrections toward an assessment of $8,192.50 in court costs, fees, and restitution following a reversal of her conviction for sexual and physical abuse of her four children and acquittal after retrial; and (2) Louis Alonzo Madden asked for a refund of $1,977.75 he paid toward assessed court costs, fees, and restitution totaling $4,413.00 after his conviction for patronizing a prostituted child was reversed on direct appeal, his conviction for attempted third-degree sexual assault by force was vacated on postconviction relief, and the State elected not to appeal or retry the case. Neither petitioner proceeded under the Exoneration Act. The Colorado Supreme Court held that the Exoneration Act was the sole means of seeking a refund and, thus, the courts were without authority to refund the money paid. Moreover, the Colorado court found no due process problem because the Act provided sufficient process to defendants seeking refunds. Justice Ginsberg, writing for the U.S. Supreme Court, disagreed.